Can you feel at home in a country you only briefly visited once? Yes, you can. Georgia made it extremely easy for us. The first thing we saw after passing the Turkish side of the border were two giant flags. The Georgian flag, of course, white with red crosses, and the blue European flag (that Georgia can use since joining the Council of Europe in 2006). The officer checking our papers welcomed us in German: “Willkommen in Georgien!”. And when we continued to Customs we even saw a familiar face. “We were here last year.” we told the officer and he replied “I know. But not with these bikes!”
Damn right. Rati had been a bit sceptical when we had turned up at the border 10 months ago. Thies’ old Africa Twin didn’t raise eyebrows so much, but Momme’s Speed Triple and our mate’s old Moto Guzzi surely did: “This is Enduro country.” Very true. Funnily enough he himself rides a sports bike - but will get an Enduro soon. After our little chat we headed towards Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
We took some tiny dirt tracks in order not to ride the same roads like last year. The landscape was as impressive as it had been on the Turkish side.
Back on tar, the villages greeted us with unannounced speed bumps. Old men and young kids were waving at us as if we were long lost friends.
In Tbilisi we headed for the Old Town, whose wooden houses are built directly into a steep hill. Streets are very narrow here and force cars into a lot of manoeuvring. With our bikes we were better off.
After three and half weeks on the road we felt like a little break from travelling so we made Tbilisi our Georgian base.
We stayed at the same hotel/hostel like last year, Check Point. It has a great location overlooking the whole city nice spacey rooms and it’s not pricy. David and his family, who run the place, are very friendly and always helpful. they changed a lot of the interior while we were away, but not the wifi passwort - sweet! Our best accommodation of the trip so far. Highly recommended.
We used the time to do some maintenance. Cleaning the bikes, washing some clothes, sewing some holes, stuff that needs to be done. And we wandered through the streets of Tbilisi a lot.
Coming home to Georgia also meant coming home to the Georgian cuisine – great! The Balkans and Turkey know countless variations of minced meat; Georgian food has a greater variety to offer. Walnuts and pomegranate are two typical ingredients of their very tasty dishes. Sadly we didn’t take any photos of the dishes. Sorry. Instead at least one photo of a Georgian script. It looks very unique and its origin has never really been figured out. Unfortunately we cannot read it all. But it’s very pretty.
And then, there was some sightseeing, mostly the things we did not get to visit last year, like the Holy Trinity Cathedral you can see from almost any point in the city. It was finished in 2004 after nine years of construction (and is located directly opposite of “EPIC HOTEL”, should you ever look for one).
At Georgian National Museum we even saw an exhibition about ourselves, so to speak: “Germans in Georgia”. The relations have been close since Germans settled in the Region 200 years ago. Germany also was the first country recognise Georgia under international law after its declaration of independence in 1991. Among other things, the exhibition praised the Germans “rational approach to work”. We nodded and left for a beer.
Enough of the big city life, it was time to get back on our bikes again and we took a day trip to Stepantsminda, riding a street we’d been waiting for a long time: The Georgian Military Highway.
It’s frequently named among the most picturesque mountain roads. From Tbilisi it leads north to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia-Alania (Russia) and peaks at 2379 meters.
At the end of the tunnel we met Yannick, a Frenchman who’s been around the world with BMW motorcycles for 6 years and was now travelling with a campervan. No joint photo because we were too busy discussing the location of a ferry bureau in Batumi, Georgia, and the reliability of BMW and KTM. He had many issues with his GS throughout his trip. Meanwhile, our KTMs are running just fine. Fingers crossed.
The views were amazing. At Stepantsminda we took a little dirt track up to the Gergeti Trinity Church but had to stop closely before reaching the goal. The track turned into deep mud where our street tires did not provide any grip. Bummer. We’ll have to get different tires soon.
The next day it was time to leave home aka Georgia. We headed to its eastern part, a region we had not visited before. The foothills of the Greater Caucasus to the left and green lowlands to the right provided for some nice riding. With 24 degrees it finally was as warm again as it had been in the Balkans.
We reached the border to Azerbaijan and were unsure about what to expect. “Good luck”?! What do they mean by that? Is it a bad translation? Georgian humour? We were about to find out.